This guest article from YourTango was written by Doris Helge, Ph.D., MCC.
Remember the day you gazed into the eyes of your prospective partner and truly grasped that their excitement about you matched your fascination with them? You saw your idealized self reflected back to you in their soft smiling eyes. You were hooked like a fish attracted to a shiny new lure that caters to its most vulnerable characteristics.
Like the fish traveling nonstop to a baited hook, you ignored multiple warning signs. You were lured to your destiny in spite of personality differences, minor irritations and questions from friends and family. Flaming red flags were buried under a rapid current of hormone-fed infatuation. Trust and lust controlled your left brain’s attempts to analyze and judge. Scorning due diligence, you lunged toward instant gratification with a voracious hunger and haste.
During the first part of your commitment to your new partner, you said goodbye to old longings and loneliness as you embraced new beginnings. When conflicts emerged, you eagerly re-embraced bliss… or at least contentment. Disagreements were labeled “small stuff.” Disruptive patterns were disregarded.
One day, the conflict resolution genie vanished without leaving a note promising to return. When you look at your partner’s eyes today, you no longer see your idealized self. Instead of feeling larger than life when you’re together, he or she mirrors your own imperfections back to you. Ouch!
Tender topics are inflamed when one person is already feeling inadequate and the other criticizes. Some of us combat the fear of rejection or abandonment by pushing our partner away. We try to protect ourselves by rejecting them before they can reject us. In this toxic ecosystem, resentment, fear, hurt and anger fester like untreated wounds.
What now? One choice is to run from the relationship pouring salve on your sore spots and swearing, “Never again will I attract a partner like this!” The problem with this approach is simple. When you walk away with unresolved issues, you re-create the challenge with someone new. This individual is really the same person even though they’re wearing a different name tag.
A second option for solving the dilemma is to make a sincere attempt to resolve issues with your partner by discovering how you co-created the troublesome scenario. When you make this choice, you eventually delight in a deeper level of self-love. You learn so many fascinating, valuable things about yourself that you’ll be more successful in every personal and professional relationship … forever … whether or not you stay with your current partner. Sometimes, resolving unpleasant partnership challenges can be surprisingly simple, playful and fun.
Paula and Paul were magnetized to each other after a chance encounter. Enchanted, their attraction began to blissfully bind them like clothing sealed by a Velcro enclosure that feels “just right.” Their friends often marveled at how Paula and Paul overlooked minor disagreements.
Over time, unresolved issues began to weaken the fabric of their relationship like lint clogs and deteriorates Velcro that isn’t cleaned. Eventually, hurt, resentment and fear became so deeply embedded that the couple’s original attraction could no longer seal them in serenity.
Paula complained, “Paul’s such a perfectionist. He’s always judging how I do things. I’ll never measure up to his impossible standards.” Paul was puzzled when he told his friends, “I hardly recognize Paula any more. I used to feel so special when we were together. Now she prefers her friends to me.”
In couples coaching, Paula and Paul enjoyed playing the what-if game. During the game, each partner selects 12 questions to answer. Couples say they communicate more deeply than they ever have because the game is an enjoyable, non-threatening self-discovery tool. Here are a few of the questions Paul and Paula explored:
- When my mate judges me harshly, how brutally they are judging themselves?
- How can our personality differences become a core strength in our relationship?
- What is my partner’s positive intention when he irritates me?
Paul and Paula grew tremendously from designing and playfully exploring curious questions like these. Although they began couples coaching in pain, eventually, they were glad they had endured their discomfort. “Our relationship became as strong as super glue because we identified our weak spots and took advantage of our core strengths.”
More great content from YourTango:
© 2012. Excerpted with permission from the #1 Bestselling book, “Transforming Pain Into Power” by Doris Helge, Ph.D.